GW2: Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Random picnic party

I’ve had some great reactions to my recent musings on raids.

Syl posted a nice response, and one of the things she mentions is what she misses most about raids – that sense of steady group progression with a well-oiled and well-groomed team that trusts each other implicitly. I can’t help but draw some parallels to a very tight knit WvW zerg busting guild (though the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of each guild differs by individual guild culture.)

Murf shared some of the things he enjoyed about raids as well.

I’m especially amused by some of the comments over by MMO Gypsy who automatically assume that I’ve never raided, and thus my opinion is invalid or *shrug* raiding is not for him, period.

Or was somehow spurned by an elitist raider once upon a time and thus carry an awful grudge against all raiders, lumping them together as evil elitists, boo hoo. Go cry somewhere else.

Ok, I’m exaggerating for effect, I don’t actually think any of you guys meant that, but I see similar simplistic comments carrying that essence of trolling on forum message boards all the time, probably due to the subject being endlessly debated back and forth.

And there were plenty of other reasonable rational responses, which we will try to touch on later, but ask yourselves, WHY did your mind immediately flow that way?

It’s due to what we understand ‘raids’ are, especially if we come from a World of Warcraft background.

It may surprise some of you that pretty much my only activity for the past three days in Guild Wars 2 has been camping out as part of a huge group of 100+ people on a map, listening in on a Teamspeak, occasionally wandering off AFK for the 1.5 hours between exciting fights (of a world boss raid attempt) or enjoying some of the social aspects if the crazies happen to be in the same group together.

In fact, I’ve chosen to do this non-profit activity over other more lucrative options – such as running around in a mindless Frostgorge champion zerg or participating in a marionette fight that caters more to players without sufficient time or the inclination for organization on a massive scale (that rewards a regular stream of silver/crafting materials/lucky drops and a less regular stream of blues/greens/yellows respectively.)

A little background:

The Triple Trouble jungle wurm in Bloodtide Coast is a new world boss in the Origins of Madness update that has been specifically designed for hardcore groups that are all about the organization and figuring out the strategy and tactics.

At the same time, the Living World content involves the Twisted Marionette boss fight that involves -some- coordination but not as much. It’s on a scale where random overflows might conceivably achieve full success, whereas the intensity and complexity of the jungle wurm fight pretty much requires hefty leadership and organization.

It’s provoked some hefty discussion over why these bosses exist in open world zones instead of private raid instances, given the level of intended coordination involved.

One subset of players are in favor of exclusion by private raid instance, where they can invite their friends and players they trust have the level of ability required to produce serious attempts on the raid bosses. It wastes less time for the lucky collective, and makes it easier to control the group and organize specialized builds and functions, since there is always the threat of outcasting. It produces less frustration for these players as they don’t have to endure interacting with others who don’t match their unique criteria of worth, whatever it may be.

On the other hand, we have the existing case of open world bosses, where people in the same Reddit discussion thread linked above are giving examples of how they organically stumbled onto an organized group attempt, met up with nice people, joined their Teamspeak and had their eyes opened as to how rewarding such ‘hardmode’ content can feel, as many raiders already know.

We also have the rare maniacal leader-types that love the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together. For these treasures, there is an emotion called naches, where they take pride in the achievement of those they have so patiently grown and trained from the ground up.

On the NA servers, the founder of the TTS community, Ahlou, can deservedly indulge in this as he created something that had never been seen before. A server-agnostic collection of 11 guilds, dedicated to being inclusive and take down hard mode raid bosses in GW2. It has a waiting list hundreds of people long, only stalled out by the lack of leadership types that have stepped up and volunteered their time. We’re blessed as it is that a small council of 10+ leader types stepped up to support and grow Ahlou’s vision, with a minimum of ego and drama.

(I believe an equivalent TxS community exists on the Euro servers.)

The sad truth is, there is still unavoidable exclusion.

A map is hard capped at 100+ players. (I don’t know the exact number, but it’s around there.)

Exclusion is by a sort of lottery, whoever is first able to zone in to the maps where there is sufficient leadership to attempt the bosses get to do it. Those who can’t zone in, for whatever reason, are shit outta luck. Until the next time, anyhow.

It also favors those who have oodles of time to stand around waiting for the next spawn, even if it is an hour and a half away.

It favors those who are willing to make the effort to download a voice program and join a Teamspeak, if only to listen in to leader commands, as taxis are first offered by voice to those gathered in the channels.

It favors those who are ballsy and persistent, observant and determined enough to read guild member rosters and note down the names of leaders and those who commonly taxi into instances and pretty much blindly /join and wiggle their way into the instance, as long as checking on Teamspeak reveals that an attempt is going on.

It favors those who are dedicated and driven and -crazy- enough to sit around for an hour spamming right-click on a party member’s portrait, clicking “Join party member in X zone” repeatedly, for a chance of merely participating in non-guaranteed discovery attempts at the correct tactics and strategy, leading up to a potential world first. Loot is not at all guaranteed, but potential fame and glory.

It’s produced quite a number of indignant complaints from those who feel excluded, since they don’t have sufficient time for such madness, or can’t be arsed to go through all that kind of trouble for a non-100% chance at good loot.

You may be surprised, but after some thinking it over, I am more or less okay with this particular sort of exclusion in this particular set of circumstances.

Me, the champion of being philosophically inclusive.

I think, in the end, everything seems to be about tradeoffs. We exclude one group of people, at the cost of another group that don’t meet some set of criteria.

We endure mind-numbing wait time for the potential memories and social connections we build through people being bored out of their skulls.

Deathrifyerr Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.
Deathrifyerr’s Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

But maybe only a hundred people (and probably less since a good percentage may be AFK) got to enjoy such socializing, compared to how many people playing Guild Wars 2 at any one time?

Is it fair to cater to the needs of the few as compared to the needs of the many?

Should we be concerned about being fair? Or making sure that there’s something for everyone?

In this particular case anyway, it’s probably a temporary state of affairs.

The TTS leaders (and probably a decent amount of its members) share and espouse a very similar sort of inclusive philosophy as I do.

The jungle wurm is in a “discovery of strategy” phase, not an “on farm” phase. There’s insufficient leadership to spread out to create multiple overflows, as was promptly done once an effective strategy to down Tequatl was found. Then information spread out and disseminated as experienced leaders and members felt confident enough to teach the strategy to others.

It’s most likely the case that the same will happen with the jungle wurm once some optimal strategies have been found. More space will open up. Anyone who wants to attempt the bosses will be invited and taught, as long as they open their mouths and ask, and even those who randomly stumble into the boss being taken down by the group will get a chance.

The danger, of course, is when designers tweak up the challenge to a level where only certain groups have sufficient stats or builds or reactions (or whatever form of player or character ability) and other groups simply don’t, regardless of how much teaching and training and information dissemination is done.

The automatic response of players optimizing for the best solution is, naturally, exclusion of players who don’t meet those criteria.

You may ask, why do I feel that this is such “a danger” given that I have accepted that -some- kind of exclusion is likely to happen, no matter what kind of raid variant is designed?

Well, part of it is naturally self-centered. I personally have a better shot of seeing raids completed in a TTS-style organization than your typical raid organization. They match my on-again, off-again type of scheduling. I like that I can just jump in when I have the time to one of the scheduled raids, and as long as there’s space in the overflow, I get a spot.

Whereas I would simply go nuts in a dedicated raid style organization. What? Perform the same role over and over? Prepare laboriously for days before the main event? Set an alarm clock to raid at a certain hour or let down the group of people that are counting on me? When real life interrupts, I can’t just sneak out of the raid and let someone else who desperately wants in get in? Do the same thing over and over for WEEKS and MONTHS?

I’m an explorer. I like the new and shiny. I’m crazy enough to enjoy the discovery aspect of developing a strategy. That’s why I’m camped out at the jungle wurm, giving up loot and gold earning time from all the other alternatives I could be doing. I KNOW I will get bored within three months once the thing is on farm. Like how I can’t endlessly show up in WvW night after night doing the same thing over and over. Fixed schedules and me don’t really mix well. They lead to obligation and obligation leads to erosion of fun, for me.

The other revelation I’ve had is that I’d personally much rather enjoy raids as a social club, not a competitive sports club. I don’t mind having the leeway for 30 to carry 10. Because after all, we are all good at different things. And there’s no chance to learn and improve if you aren’t allowed to keep practicing something for fear of wiping or letting down the team.

The other part of it is what I think it implies for the overall health of a game.

Closed raid communities become insular, deriding PUGs as part of a very human ‘us vs them’ tribal mentality. It becomes hard to penetrate into such social environments. Sure, the community is GREAT once you get in and stay in. But can your average newbie or person with irregular time schedules get a chance at it?

A more open and inclusive raid community allows for penetration. It makes room for those who just want to or have time to show up for one kill, just to say they did it or saw it or whatever. It makes room for those with irregular schedules. It still gives the crazy dedicated a chance to shine, especially by leading and organizing or just staying longer for insane amounts of time, at the cost of them occasionally having to put up with the company of those they consider ‘lesser’ than them.

It promotes a culture of positive behavior, of friendly encouragement to each other, cheering each other on, rather than a toxic mindset of blame and shame and only interacting with a special select group, reducing the occurrence of a negative hostile atmosphere that discourages new people from participating.

I’m not going to ask which game will have a larger population over time or be more successful.

Folks can point to World of Warcraft and Eve Online and demonstrate how they are thriving and doing great, despite the reputation of a toxic, hostile culture. Hell, for that matter, look at the success of League of Legends.

But -I- know which game I’d rather be playing and supporting.

Signing off,

Your neighborhood carebear furry blogger.

P.S. The last thing I sort of wanted to say regarding the needs of the many and the needs of the few.

I think there’s room in the MMO gamespace, and indeed in each MMO as multiple activity types, for many options and alternatives to cater to all sorts on whatever spectrum you draw up. Hardcore or casual. Time-plentiful or time-starved. Competitive or cooperative. Inclusive or exclusive. Hard difficulty or easy. Majority or minority.

But we need to stop assuming that what we have is all that will ever be.

That raids are THUS, as defined by World of Warcraft, or Everquest. (And I’m sure connoisseurs will tell you the differences between both games’ raids.)

That if you don’t like it, shut up and go to your solo leveling corner of the world, you antisocial excuse who should be playing a single-player game instead of whining.

Instead, we need to break down all the aspects of raids that we like, and all those we don’t like.

So that a creative team of developers out there can start taking a little of column A and a little from column B and glomming them together to give us new raids and new challenges that we haven’t seen, that cater to different groups of players.

Only then will we see progress and innovation and novelty.

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GW2: Today I Smiled (And Yesterday Too)

Quick, hide behind that tent!

Yesterday, I had one of the best social experiences in Guild Wars 2 that will be etched in my memory’s hall of fame.

On a social level, it matched the first time I ever encountered the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon while leveling with the first wave of GW2 fans.

That was the time when six of us met, seemingly by chance, and in truth due to cunning dynamic event design, and explored it together, steadily solving all the puzzles until we reached the final boss.

Where upon we endured wave after wave of death by roasting, one last survivor swimming out to the outer chamber to break aggro and stealthily swim back to manually rez the others, trying to free Rhendak the Crazed from his glitchy insistence on swimming into the ceiling, blowing up repeatedly from his steam/fire bubbles which no one had a clue then how to read and dodge/advoid, and FINALLY, wearing down his hp and defeating him.

To be surrounded by a sea of chests, one for each person that was present, collecting with glee all the blues and greens until our bags were overloaded and amazed by the bountiful haul.

(Oh, how times have changed now.)

There was mass love and bromance by everyone present, excitedly friending each other. They were the first people I put on my friends list in GW2.

(I still see one or two of them around to this day. One is ironically in the same SEA guild that I joined. The other is a massive achievement hound, too hardcore for me to feel comfortable socializing with – but is also in a TTS guild – who mostly serves as my distant barometer of how high the bar is now for maximum possible AP.)

It matched the most memorable and social WvW experiences I would ever have, coming in to Tarnished Coast as a wide-eyed newbie, getting educated in all manner of tactics during the age of celebrity commanders and siege masters.

Fer instance, there were the multiple times people would lemming off a cliff following Commander Jadon and laugh uproariously at the aftermath. The intensively detailed siege placement and mortar usage trainings of Theongreyjoy, the ‘balls deep’ charges and ‘playing zombies’ zerg vs zerg learn-by-doing trainings of EP’s  Odinzu and CERN’s Nightlight. The defiantly masterful map-hopping and outmanned last stands utilizing chokepoints during offpeak hours of the then PiNK’s Deyja.

Deyja, especially, provided some of the best times I would ever have. As far as I know, he’s gone now, having seemingly gotten burned out PUGmandering and first spending a lot of time enjoying more individual style PvP on the WvW maps, then joining KH and maybe moving with them to another server or having quit the game entirely. Completely understandable and natural attrition over time.

The guy deserves a tribute for the good times regardless.

Notoriously foul-mouthed and with a drill sergeant style of commanding that no doubt got him at odds with certain more thin-skinned people, he had a great sense of wry humor and a good heart that was audible in his tone, despite the expletives peppering every other word.

He had also an UNCANNY knack of reading the enemy, making fantastic tactical calls, and was a natural leader, knowing how to keep morale going in the darkest of hours when 10-20 lone stalwarts faced the teeming hordes of other servers outmanned.

We would hide in corners that most zergs would naturally fail to check with their eyes focused ahead on the prize, and plow them over from behind before they even knew what hit them. When all else was lost, instead of crawling away with our tails between our legs, Deyja would lead his ragtag group and set up defiant camp in the lord room of hills keep, spamming AoE and siege with such fury in the chokepoint that whole 80 man zergs would bog down for 1-2 crucial hours, stuck outside, trying and escalating one siege tactic after another to break the encampment.

And there was the crowning classic moment which etched into my heart how to never give up if you don’t want to.

Our zerg, such as it was, had dwindled down to a mere five people.

This was in the days when during late Aussie/SEA hours, you were lucky if there were ten people on all the maps. Deyja switched tactics without hesitation and took us skirmishing. We’d swipe a supply camp, try a ninja here and there, and when the opposing zerg came upon us with righteous fury, we ran.

But did we run like chickens?

Hell, no. His voice kept us together. Paraphrasing, it was something like “Ahhhhhh, fuck, FUCK, run, run, you bastards, run! Follow me, keep up! You get caught, yer screwed. Run like the wind!” But said with a grin in his voice that you had to be there to hear.

We ran like fucking SAMURAI.

We strung the enemy out.

“Wait for it… wait for it…” he said, as we dashed into the outskirts of the hylek camp. Just as we cleared the second exit, “NOW,” he said, “TURN AROUND.”

And the three of us that remained ganked the three fastest pursuers that had thought they were going to get easy outmanned kills.

Not at all being a professional PvPer by ANY stretch of the imagination, and being scared to death that I would let the other two down, it was one of the most adrenaline charged experiences (and victories) of my GW2 life.

Of course, we booked it out of there before the rest of the zerg caught up. And broke up shortly after as there was nothing more he could do for us. But I learned a hell of a lot that fateful day about keeping morale up and ending on a high note.

Yesterday’s social experience was also all about morale.

And a great leader.

Ironically, it was during one of the times I dread most. Playing the WAITING game.

Y’see, it starts with dance offs.

There are three teams that deal with each of the jungle wurms. Crimson, Cobalt and Amber.

In certain TTS runs, a crazy asura named Merforga (he of the Tequatl pre-flight briefing fame) leads the Crimson team.

Every time Amber and Crimson meet up to take down the first wurm, there is a small waiting period while the poor Cobalt team walks their long scenic beachfront route with an NPC who loves to sidetrek off crabs, risen and anything red within his sights.

During this time, Crimson and Amber face off with each other and DANCE. In a zerg, then in lines, and then with synchronized /dance * and even /rank offs.

Things soon evolved during the one and a half hour long wait in between jungle wurm spawns, when one team commander (I have no idea who first came up with the idea) decided to take his zerg on a showy synchronized movement display in circles around the other two stationary teams.

You know, the sort of thing all WvW zerg commanders do – “stay on my tag and follow.” Easily performed by anyone not AFK.

So, very soon, each team was taking it in turns to orbit each of the other two stationary teams, everyone cackling madly.

In all good nuclear escalation scenarios, princess doll tonics are involved.

Crimson popped a trading post and members gleefully spent 16 silver on a belated Wintersday celebration. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

Circular orbits with jumping princess dolls!

(If you’ve never heard them screaming, you can check out a sample in this video here. Now imagine about 20 of those running around in circles.)

The flock heads back after a job well done. (I clean forgot to screenshot during. Too busy laughing.)
The flock heads back after a job well done. (I clean forgot to screenshot during. Too busy laughing and circling and screaming like a demented little girl.)

Then yesterday, Merforga decided to bring a music bot into the Crimson team’s teamspeak channel. Where a gleeful half hour was spent in intra-team trolling of fairly ridiculous songs pilfered off Youtube. (Yes, there were rickrolls.)

And then there was Hodor.

Before you know it, a brilliant plan was hatched to rename the music bot Hodor and send it into the other team’s channels, merrily singing Hodor!

While they suffered a stampede of dolyaks.

Screen cap off Merforga's Twitch stream - You can watch the whole gleeful setup at http://www.twitch.tv/merforga1/b/497725115
Screen cap off Merforga’s Twitch stream – You can watch the whole gleeful setup at http://www.twitch.tv/merforga1/b/497725115 – the sound is a little screwed up by “User Joined/Left Your Channel”, folks who turned off that audio messaging got the full effect.

(And a naked tiger charr whose only excuse was that yours truly couldn’t open the trading post. It was down for my client. Much sadness. Still, on fours and hairy…)

I haven’t laughed as hard for a very very long time. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

It’s gotten me thinking very hard about the pros and cons of wait time, and creating experiences meant for very organized groups as opposed to the general majority. I’ll try to cover that in my next post – The Needs of the Many, The Needs of the Few (coming soonTM). (Update: Post is now here.)